A Snapshot in Time

In 1946, photographer Jean Straker formed a short-lived photographic firm known as Photo Union at 12, Soho Square in London. It specialised in the photo-essay, a form of pictorial journalism undertaken mainly with miniature cameras with lots of detailed images and bridging shots. Four years later, in 1951, the agency went into receivership when Straker sank capital into colour photography, which was to prove too costly. The archive, now at Mary Evans, consequently documents a particularly brief period of time but in many ways, it is all the more fascinating for it.

Woman on London routemaster bus, 1940s

Ley-On's Chop Suey Restaurant, Soho

Jean Straker was born in London in 1913 to an émigré Russian father and English ballerina mother. He began his career in journalism during the 1930s, specialising in film and launching ‘The Talkie’ magazine. A conscientious objector during the War, he combined duties as an ARP warden with working as a surgical photographer in London’s hospitals. But it was in the 1950s, that fame—or perhaps infamy—finally found a foothold. With the failure of Photo Union, Straker abandoned commercial photography to pursue personally satisfying projects. He set up the Visual Arts Club and as part of this, organised nude photography sessions for members. In 1959, ‘The Nudes of Jean Straker’ was published by Charles Skilton Publications, one of the first art photography books of its kind. Despite his activities being pretty similar in practice to life drawing classes, sensibilities were shocked and he was prosecuted in 1962 under the Obscene Publications Act. Arguing that there was nothing depraved or corrupt about the naked human body, Straker spent the rest of the decade refusing to curtail his activities or compromise his artistic integrity leading to a continuous cycle of prosecutions and appeals. By the late 1960s, Straker had given up photography but continued to campaign and lecture on censorship until his death in 1984.

Nude Danae by Jean Straker

Though Straker’s Photo Union collective was a commercial venture, whose subjects were necessarily more conservative, some of the images seem to hint at Straker’s background and personal interests. There are backstage shots of showgirls and candid shots of jobbing musicians, evocative images of Soho streets and long-gone West End restaurants while guileful London girls are pictured on dates with American GIs. They hint of freedom and a certain type of seedy glamour in an age of rationing and austerity. There are other pictures too, which project a more innocent nostalgia: apprentice carpenters, Kentish apple pickers and the 1947 Royal Wedding. But occasionally, the odd, artistic nude reveals the agency founder’s true, fleshy metier. The Photo Union collection is an eclectic and evocative picture of post-war Britain, and particularly London.  To see a selection of images from the archive on the Mary Evans website, click here.

VE Day Celebrations - Piccadilly Circus

Ballet dancers training

One Man and his Dogs

Miss A. N. Hartley with her prize-winning Deerhound, Champion Betsinda of Rotherwood - with Cruft's Gold Trophy for the Hound Group. Date: 1982

Out of the myriad archives, books and prints acquired by our founder, Mary Evans, since the library’s inception in 1964, that which brought her the most personal joy was arguably the Thomas Fall Collection which came to the library in 2001. The name Thomas Fall is synonymous with the highest quality photographs of pedigree dogs, and Mary’s interest in the archive, the oldest of its kind in the world, was not only professional but born of a lifelong love of canine companions.

Major P. C. G. Haywood judging Golden Retrievers at Crufts

Thomas Fall was born in 1833 when the art, not to mention the science, of photography was in its infancy. In 1826 the first permanent, surviving photograph had been produced by Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce who later worked with Louis Daguerre, the inventor of the daguerreotype process in 1839 which produced unique but fragile images. Others swiftly followed, refining and developing processes to fix a photographic image. English pioneer Henry Fox Talbot had developed the calotype by 1840, producing a negative from which positive prints could be taken, while John Herschel made the first glass negative in 1839.

FALL/CRUFTS/1956/GREYH'D

Into this atmosphere of feverish invention, Thomas Fall took his first steps, setting up as a portrait photographer in the 1850s in Bedale in Yorkshire. In the late 1860s he moved to London to work for the established studio of Elliott and Fry in Baker Street, and from there founded his own business in 1875, also in Baker Street. He began to specialise in photographing dogs, perhaps because many of his high society patrons wished their pets immortalised quite as much as their other family members. During the 1890s he was commissioned by the Princess of Wales, later Queen Alexandra, to photograph her with her dogs earning the company a Royal Warrant. In 1900 Thomas Fall died, but this was far from the end of the story. In fact the company’s association with the art of photographing dogs was immeasurably strengthened and amplified by those who came after him.

The Judge of the Exhibition of Japanese Spaniels. Date: 1898

In 1910, Edward Hitchings Parker, who had been the young manager of the Finchley Road branch of the expanded Fall enterprise bought both the firm and the name ‘Thomas Fall, Photographer’ from the family, becoming known, somewhat confusingly, to those in the dog world as Mr Fall. In 1927 he was joined, firstly as an assistant and later as a partner, by Barbara Bourn who arrived with an 18-month apprenticeship in photography. Parker was a forceful character who, according to Bourn in an interview with Dog World in October 1970, was not averse to shouting at both assistants and customers in order to get the shots he wanted: “Mr Parker knew exactly where he wanted the dog to look and it didn’t matter what was in that direction, I had to go there to attract the dog. There could be a lake, a wood, a main road, a bed of nettles, it didn’t matter. I would have to go to exactly the right spot so that the dog’s head turned absolutely in profile.”

A little girl surrounded by three Daschunds and six Dandie Dinmonts. Date: 1947

Bourn had an early opportunity to operate the camera herself at Marion Keyte Perry’s Arctic kennel in Haslemere, Surrey, where her ten champion Samoyeds were to be photographed with their owner. “We had this marvellous group arranged with the dogs looking superb [but] we just couldn’t get the dogs looking in the right direction and nothing would persuade them to look at me. Mr Parker got more and more furious until he said you’d better take this photograph, I’ll put it absolutely ready for you…He charged down a long slope and the noise he made was enough to waken the dead. The dogs looked absolutely fabulous…out of all the many takes that was the one.”

Mr Curnow judging at the Dog Centre Birthday Show

Edward Hitchings Parker died in 1958, with Barbara Bourn continuing the firm’s business of photographing pedigree dogs. By the late 1960s, she felt that things were coming to a natural conclusion but was persuaded by fellow photographer William Burrows, who she later married, of the historical worth of the pictures taken since the late 19th century. We are delighted that this flourishing archive is now part of the Mary Evans Picture Library, and has the opportunity of being widely seen by both dog and history lovers.

Crufts Dog Show at the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington, London - February, 1938. Date: 1938
Over nearly a century, Thomas Fall has been connected with the top kennels of the country, and the remarkable photographs taken in this time are a vital historical record of how breeds have changed. In addition, the images have a charm all of their own, the owners proud, the dogs elegant, noble or just plain cute.

Fourteen Standard Poodles - Winners of the Progeny Class - Windsor Dog Show. Date: 1972

The original Thomas Fall, dog photographer, with a borzoi owned by H.M. Queen Alexandra. Date: 1893

The original Thomas Fall, dog photographer, with a borzoi owned by H.M. Queen Alexandra. Date: 1893

The Brothers Robinson

The William Heath Robinson Museum opened in Pinner in October last year, the culmination of many years’ fundraising by the West House and Heath Robinson Trust.  Regardless of how familiar you are with the work of the so-called, ‘Gadget King’, this lovely museum is well worth the trip to the further reaches of the Metropolitan line.  Located just five minutes or so from Pinner station, the museum’s graceful modern building sits within the picturesque Pinner Memorial Park. Divided into three main spaces, one room is devoted to its rolling programme of exhibitions,  another tells the story of Heath Robinson’s career as an illustrator with a third dedicated to workshops and education.

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON Artist and illustrator, shown working in his studio. Heath Robinson's prolific career spanned five decades. During this time, he produced countless illustrations for The Sketch and The Bystander as well as other ILN magazines. He is quoted as saying, 'I was fairly launched on my career' of Bruce Ingram's decision to publish his illustrations in The Sketch in March 1906. He is best-known for his ingenious contraptions but his work extended to the themes of golf, cricket, war, gardening and more. Date: 1872 - 1944

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON Artist and illustrator, shown working in his studio. Heath Robinson’s prolific career spanned five decades. During this time, he produced countless illustrations for The Sketch and The Bystander as well as other ILN magazines. He is quoted as saying, ‘I was fairly launched on my career’ of Bruce Ingram’s decision to publish his illustrations in The Sketch in March 1906. He is best-known for his ingenious contraptions but his work extended to the themes of golf, cricket, war, gardening and more. Date: 1872 – 1944

The area’s connection with Heath Robinson is deeply felt.  Though he was born in Stroud Green, North London, he moved to Hatch End, near the country village of Pinner with his young family in 1908, an area where his older brother Tom – also an illustrator – was already living.  In 1918, Will, as he was known, moved to a larger house in Cranleigh, Surrey, but his decade spent in Pinner saw him flourish and find permanent fame as an illustrator, and where, arguably, he produced some of his finest work.

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Pinner is no longer the rural idyll it was when Will moved there almost 110 years ago, but it retains a village-like air of tranquility and order, and despite the plethora of chain restaurants now occupying the quaint buildings, the delightfully ancient Queen’s Head pub on the high street, where Will and his friends would regularly congregate for a drink, continues to do a roaring trade.  In fact, Will and his two elder brothers Tom and Charles, would form part of a group jovially entitled the Loyal Federation of Frothfinders.  Together they would go on long walks around the Middlesex countryside with convivial breaks along the way at convenient hostelries, a sort of glorified, bucolic pub crawl.  It seems fitting therefore, that as part of the museum’s latest exhibition, ‘The Brothers Robinson’ which explores the shared and separate talents of Tom, Charles and William Heath Robinson, Paradigm Brewery of Hertfordshire have brewed and bottled a special Frothfinders beer, a move that would most certainly have pleased these ale-loving brethren.

A rather lovely illustration by Charles Robinson, showing a bride and groom arm in arm among an arcadian landscape. Date: 1933
A rather lovely illustration by Charles Robinson, showing a bride and groom arm in arm among an arcadian landscape. Date: 1933

Here at the library, we also have strong connections with William Heath Robinson and his equally talented brothers.  Mary and Hilary collected many children’s books from the so-called ‘Golden Age’ of British publishing when lavish gift books were gloriously illustrated and expensively bound.  Tom, Charles and Will worked both separately and collaboratively on numerous titles we hold here including volumes of Hans Anderson’s Fairy Tales (Will), Old-Time Stories by Charles Perrault (Will) and A Child’s Christmas (Charles).

Children crowd round the window of a Toy Shop to look at the sale bargains within. Date: circa 1908
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Beyond book illustration, it was as a cartoonist that Will found true fame, admitting in his autobiography, ‘My Line of Life’ (also owned by the library), “I was fairly launched on my career as a humorous artist” of Bruce Ingram’s decision to publish him in The Sketch.  The Sketch forms part of the Illustrated London News archive housed and managed here at the library.  His series of First World War cartoons in the magazine, as well as the Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, also part of the archive, were hugely popular, prompting soldiers to write to him with suggestions for further absurd contraptions with which to foil the dishonourable machinations of the Germans.  Many of Will’s Great War cartoons for The Sketch featured in the museum’s first exhibition, ‘Heath Robinson at War’, together with examples of his work from the Second World War when he was still contributing illustrations to The Sketch, underlining his long association with the title.  The ILN’s run of The Bystander is also a great source for his cartoons during the 1920s, as is The Strand while his advertising work for brands such as Hovis, Ransome’s Lawnmowers and Mackintosh Toffees, appears frequently.

Perhaps most surprising are many of the exquisite illustrations Charles Robinson contributed to the ILN magazines during the 1920s and 30s; his themes, oozing fantasy, are far more adult and sophisticated than the children’s books he is best known for, but retain his trademark romantic watercolour style.

Beautiful illustration by Charles Robinson showiong a sailor and a lady friend peering over the edge of a ship to see a bevy of beautiful mermaids in the sea below. Date: 1939

Beautiful illustration by Charles Robinson showiong a sailor and a lady friend peering over the edge of a ship to see a bevy of beautiful mermaids in the sea below. Date: 1939

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This new exhibition in Pinner promises to display more than sixty pieces of work by the brothers, many of them not previously seen.  We pulled together our own selection for you to enjoy here, with a reminder that images by William Heath Robinson and Charles Robinson are available for licensing through Mary Evans.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for something to do one weekend soon, why not make a trip to Pinner?

‘The Brothers Robinson’ runs from 21 January 2017 to 26 March 2017 www.heathrobinsonmuseum.org

Designing the Jazz Age – Gordon Conway & Mary Evans at the Fashion & Textile Museum

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The Fashion and Textile Museum, a flamboyant landmark on London’s achingly hip Bermondsey Street, has been a mecca for fans of fashion history ever since it was opened by designer Zandra Rhodes in 2003. Now part of Newham College of Further Education, the hot pink and orange building, a former warehouse, does not own a permanent collection, nor is it particularly large compared to behemoths like the V&A, but it packs a punch with continually crowd-pleasing exhibitions complemented by a creative and engaging programme of talks and workshops. In the last couple of years, exhibitions have celebrated the history of swimwear, Liberty of London and Italian knitwear brand Missoni. This autumn, the museum has turned its attention to the glittering, glamorous Jazz Age combining exquisite original garments from the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield with photographs of the era’s icons by American photographer James Abbé, curated by Terence Pepper.

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Not only that, we were delighted to be invited to curate a display of fashion illustrations for the exhibition, bringing an important facet of the 1920s fashion industry into focus. The pictures selected were all full-colour illustrations by American designer, Gordon Conway, who was commissioned by The Tatler and Britannia & Eve in the late 1920s to produce a series of designs, most of which were published under the simple title of ‘A Tatler Fashion’. Both magazines now form part of The Illustrated London News archive housed and managed here at Mary Evans, and are an authentic reflection of the tastes and aspirations of a widening class of consumers who were keen to try new fashions and sample modern freedoms that had previously been beyond the reach of their mothers and grandmothers. Conway herself was the epitome of the stylish, modern girl – very much practising what she preached.

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Born 18 December 1894 in Cleburne, Texas, USA, Gordon Conway (1894-1956) was the only child of John Catlett Conway and Tommie Johnson. Educated in America and at finishing school in Switzerland, she showed a special talent for drawing and it was at a dinner party in 1915 that her doodles on a menu card impressed the writer Rufus Gilmore, who recommended her to Hepworth Campbell, art director of Vanity Fair. Though she lacked any prolonged formal art training, Campbell was struck by the fresh and modern linearity of her drawings. Fearing that further art lessons might dilute her distinctive style, he commissioned her to provide artwork for the magazine, where her designs, drawn from imagination, led her to be described as, ‘the artist who draws by ear.’

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Having launched her career in America, by 1921, she had travelled to Europe with her new husband, businessman, Blake Ozias, where she divided her time between London and Paris, keeping studios in both cities. Tall, red-haired, sophisticated and stylish, Gordon Conway personified the svelte flappers she drew, and courted publicity – alongside her famous pet cat, ‘Mr Fing’ – as part of an effective marketing drive that was to lead to multiple commissions during the 1920s period. She provided designs for theatre posters and programmes for productions in London and Paris; sketched for a number of well-known couturiers and, championed by Edward Huskinson, editor of The Tatler, contributed original designs to his own magazine and other titles in the same ‘Great Eight’ publishing group – Eve: The Ladies’ Pictorial and The Bystander. She also excelled in costume design for cabaret and theatre, dressing performers The Dolly Sisters, Gladys Cooper and her good friend, Dorothy Dickson among others. Towards the end of the decade she became more heavily involved in costume design for the British film industry, establishing the first autonomous in-house costume department at the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation studios where, as executive dress designer she produced costumes for a succession of pictures including the futuristic ‘High Treason’ and ‘There Goes the Bride’, starring Jessie Matthews.

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Gordon Conway worked hard, refusing to ever miss deadlines set by her demanding clients, while also maintaining a hectic social life. Overwhelmed by such a schedule she suffered a heart attack in late 1933 which was to curtail her output. Plagued by ill-health, she divorced her husband and retired in 1937, returning to the USA to live with her beloved mother Tommie at Mount Sion in Caroline County, Virginia, an eighteenth century property inherited from her father’s family.

We were able to see the Gordon Conway display in place for the first time at the opening night of the exhibition, which also allowed us a sneak preview of the breath-taking clothes on display. Jazz Age is a pure delight, its disparate elements pulled together with such a deft touch by curator Dennis Nothdruft and exhibition designer, Bethan Ojari that it feels cohesive and thoroughly steeped in 1920s atmosphere. Themed around the silent screen, this common thread is reflected in two opening tableaux – a cinema (complete with usherette uniform), flanked by a coven of twinkling black flapper dresses. Following this, the first display in the main area offers a mouth-watering array of evening coats and opera cloaks mirroring an illustration on the wall of theatre crowds in London’s West End, painted, coincidentally, by Fortunino Matania for The Sphere, another magazine held in the ILN archive. A set of wispy pastel coloured dresses and tennis costumes, contrast with the sexy frivolity of boudoir fashions and the sophistication of beaded and embroidered evening dresses on the upper level, while a wedding party in delicious, soft, orchard colours surround a shimmering Medieval style bridal gown. The most heavily sequinned dresses were displayed flat in glass cabinets to ward against the inevitable stretch and sagging that would occur should they be hung from a mannequin. Other than that, all clothes, which are in astoundingly good condition, are shown unconfined by glass cabinets, with each vignette scene, ranging from cocktail hour to Chinatown after dark, quietly enhanced by superb background paintings (the work of Paul Stagg and his team, carried out in Sanderson paints and strongly reminiscent of A. E. Marty or Georges Barbier in Gazette du Bon Ton). A display of occasional and dressing tables covered with period objects and artefacts provide a nostalgic narrative to the rapid social change undergone from the closing of the First World War to the dawn of the Second. Who knew Mum deodorant was already a thing in the 1920s? And presiding over all these fabric treasures is a chorus girl swinging from a suspended, glittering crescent moon. Should one’s mind wander back to the present day, a large screen playing a flickering 1920s dance routine on an endless loop reels us back in.

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The photographic element of the exhibition includes a wall of female icons from the era most captured by equally famous snappers from Cecil Beaton to Man Ray. The James Abbé exhibition in an adjoining upstairs room, brings together some of the most glamorous stars of the period from the Dolly Sisters to Dolores, Mary Pickford to Rudolf Valentino. Abbe’s carefully constructed images convey the iconic status of his sitters, and the bold, sexually-charged confidence of this new age. To browse this gallery is akin to walking into a temple of assembled gods and goddesses.

The following day, with the exhibition officially open, I went back to the museum to take part in a panel discussion alongside the other contributors, Cleo & Mark Butterfield, Terence Pepper, Jenny Abbé, and curator Dennis Nothdruft . Talking about the genesis of the library, I also explained how fashion, as a barometer of social change, was a real strength of the library and that seeing the beautiful dresses and clothes on display brought the magazines and other fashion ephemera in our archive to life. There seems to be much cross-pollination and synergy in this collaboration. Pictures by James Abbé for instance, were frequently published in The Tatler, and Mary Evans contributor Gary Chapman, expert on the Dolly Sisters, assisted with the exhibition and will giving talks as part of its accompanying lecture series. With so many connections, we are proud to be associated with the museum’s 1920s Jazz Age. Furthermore, we feel our involvement would have delighted our founders Mary and Hilary Evans, who were always keen to share their passion for history with others. We hope Gordon Conway too would have been pleased to have been part of an exhibition that celebrates this dazzling period in fashion history – and the part she played in it.

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Jazz Age at the Fashion & Textile Museum runs until 15 January 2017 http://www.ftmlondon.org/
Prints and cards featuring Gordon Conway illustrations are available to buy in the museum’s shop.

To see more Gordon Conway images click here

Cream of the Crop – the Pond’s Society Girls

Illustrations depicting women using various Pond's skincare products, available in jars for use at home, or tube for when travelling. Date: 1935

Buy a glossy magazine today and you’ll be guaranteed to find at least a third of its pages are given over to advertisements.  But this is nothing new.  Advertising have kept the wheels of magazine publishing turning for over 150 years.  Some titles in the ILN archive, particularly The Tatler, are bulging with hundreds of ads in every issue, and in many cases, they’re just as fascinating as the features and photographs in the main body of the magazine, offering an acute, in-the-moment snapshot of readers’ interests and aspirations.  Many of the most successful brands are still going, testament in part to their canny marketing campaigns through the years.

 One of the beauty brands with remarkable longevity is Pond’s Cold Cream, the origins of which stretch back to the mid-19th century when an American pharmacist, Theron T. Pond developed Pond’s Extract, containing witch hazel, which claimed to act as a panacea against all manner of ailments from haemmorhoids to painful feet.  By 1904, the company had created a beauty product, Pond’s Cold Cream, designed to cleanse the skin, and an accompanying Vanishing Cream to soften and ward against the dire effects of cold or hot weather in equal measure.  It was a two-step skincare regime that formed a blueprint for skincare systems developed by countless cosmetics companies since.   The company would also introduce a ‘freshener’ (toner), vitamin cream and powder to complement their flagship lotions.

Pond’s face creams enjoyed a steady success until the 1920s when increased competition from expensive brands launched by Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden caused Pond’s to re-think its low-key advertising campaign. The solution was to embark on a testimonials campaign that was to rally (with, presumably, substantial cash incentives) the support of firstly stage actresses, and then well-known, wealthy socialite beauties of the 1930s.  If economical, fuss-free and effective Pond’s was good enough for the blue blooded ladies of the land it was good enough for anyone.  As a marketing premise it was remarkably effective but did not come cheap; Pond’s regularly spent three times as much as Elizabeth Arden on its annual advertising.

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Every week during the 1930s The Tatler carried an advertisement for Pond’s, with most of the personalities endorsing the creams already familiar faces in the magazine’s society pages.  We hold alternative portrait images of many of these women at the library, if not from the ILN archive, then through the pictures taken by society photographer Madame Yevonde whose archive we represent.

The accompanying copy is flattering to the point of obsequiousness.  Each lady, countess or duchess is lauded for her sportiness, busy lifestyle, her jet setting or exquisite beauty.  Their personal anecdotes are laughably old-fashioned as they witter about how Pond’s helped to fix ruddy cheeks after exertion on wind-swept hockey pitches, or helped them achieve a vision of loveliness for their first debutante ball.

The Duchess of Leinster (the Duke’s second of four wives), American socialite Agnes Rafaelle, recounted her girlish worries about her first Yale University Ball:

“If you knew how much American girls long to go to Yale University Dances – or ‘Proms,’ as they call them – you’d realise my excitement at receiving an invitation to the midsummer prom. I’d never been to one before but I knew it was necessary to look your very loveliest if you were to win the approval of critical college boys!

I found myself muttering ‘Pond’s, Pond’s, lots and lots of Pond’s’ over and over again. Even more than a smart frock I had to get a smart face!

There was a fortnight to do it in. Each night I cleansed with Cold Cream. And during the day I smoothed on Vanishing Cream to ward off roughness and lines.  You should have seen the difference in my skin the night we motored out to Yale!  No blemishes, no dryness – soft as velvet!  The ‘prom’ proved gayer than my wildest dreams – everyone ‘cut-in’ on my dances.  I’m sure I had the best time of any girl there.”

The sporty Countess of Warwick relied on Pond’s to maintain her ‘flawless skin’ at all times whether ‘At Cannes or Cowes, Goodwood or Gleneagles,’ while Lady Smiley, the former Nancy Beaton, sister of Cecil, tells of ‘what a marvellous time I had’ at a Christmas party aged sixteen, all because of Pond’s. “I’m sure that’s why I’ve kept my skin free from dryness and little worry lines – the curse of a fine skin like mine,” she modestly confided. “People tell me my skin still looks as young as it did at sixteen.”  Lady Marguerite Strickland, just back from a sporting holiday of walking, golfing and riding was relieved to find her ‘dazzling’ skin had survived due to Pond’s.  Lady Bridgett Poulett made no apologies for her views on the importance of appearance:

“To be successful socially or professionally depends not only on one’s brain but on one’s looks,” she lectured, “There’s no excuse for an ‘ugly duckling’ in any family… The first essential to beauty is a fresh , clear youthful complexion and I’ve no patience with the woman who doesn’t make the best of her looks when it’s so simple.”

Woe betide anyone who had a bad skin day and ran into Lady Bridgett, who, despite her strident views on cosmetic slovenliness, was hailed by Pond’s as a, ‘brilliant, young favourite in London society…likened to a famous painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ (though the advert declined to elaborate further on which particular painting).

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If Lady Bridgett’s sharp observations, no doubt delivered in a cut-glass accent, are not enough to make us cringe then let me share those of Constance, Lady Moon who, in her Pond’s advertisement, found her creams a godsend while big game hunting in Kenya.

“We had gone hundreds of miles off into Kenya for elephant hunting. In my small mirror I saw my face getting rougher and drier every day.  Then I found – packed away in the luggage by a thoughtful person – several jars of Pond’s Creams.  How my skin changed when I started using them!”

Thank goodness Lady Moon’s maid had the foresight to send her mistress off with a secret stash of Pond’s. And thank goodness Lady Moon’s complexion was restored despite all that strenuous elephant slaughtering.

Upper class stereotypes abound, as well as the peddled rule that social advancement, in the form of engagement and marriage, could only be achieved by looking one’s best. One article in The Tatler around this time instructed women, ‘Beauty is the passport to happiness and all that it signifies, including romance.’  These are adverts that convey despairingly short-sighted ambitions for women of the era, though plenty of beauty adverts of recent times might be accused of the same.  But what is particularly intriguing is that many of the privileged women behind these endorsements led fascinating lives, often a far cry from the polish and poise projected in Pond’s advertising.

Take Lady Milbanke for instance (‘Vivid, gay, utterly charming’). Born Sheila Chisholm in Australia, she met the dissipated Lord Loughborough while nursing in Cairo in 1915 and married him later that year.  ‘Loughie’ was a compulsive gambler, to the point where his father the Earl of Rosslyn, put a notice in The Times declaring he would not be responsible for his son’s debts.  While her husband gambled away their money, Sheila was free to enjoy high society and soon came into the orbit of the Prince of Wales and Bertie, his younger brother – the future King George VI.  For a time, Sheila and Bertie enjoyed a romantic affair, forming a partnership with his brother and his mistress Freda Dudley-Ward.  They dubbed themselves, ‘the four ‘do’s’.   When George V got wind of the romance, he put a stop to it but the pair continued to enjoy a close, platonic relationship.  Sheila married twice more – to Lord Milbanke and then Prince Dmitri Romanoff.  It’s unlikely she ever came close to marrying the future king of England but there was no doubting his feelings about her.  In one letter he wrote, “”Whenever I go into a ballroom I always look around the room hoping to see you, as I know there is somebody missing, and it is so sad not seeing you, and I do so miss you.”

Another Pond’s Cream girl who did marry her Prince was Princess Marina of Greece (‘seen at the smartest functions in London’), who posed with her sister Elizabeth for a 1933 advertisement. A year and a half later, Pond’s had worked its magic.  She walked down the aisle of Westminster Abbey with Prince George, Duke of Kent, younger brother of David and Bertie.  George was killed in a plane crash in Scotland during the Second World War aged 42 when their youngest child, the present Prince Michael of Kent, was just a few weeks old.  Marina never remarried.  Her eldest son is the present Duke of Kent.

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Rose Bingham was hailed as one of the prettiest debutantes of 1931 an accolade which, in this case, was probably true. With Bambi eyes and rosebud lips, Rose was a media darling, frequently photographed for the society pages.  Not only was she a Pond’s girl, but she also appeared in a full page advert for the prestigious Hotel George V in Paris declaring she stayed there because ‘only the best’ would do.  Hollywood came calling and she dabbled in film acting, appearing in ‘The Black Sheep’ in 1935 but not before she had married the 7th Earl of Warwick in 1933.  He too was a keen actor and the couple erected a cinema screen on the roof of Warwick Castle where society mingled with the Hollywood set.  If Rose had been alive today, L’Oréal would definitely have her whispering, “Because I’m worth it,” from our TV screens.  Rose and Fulke Warwick divorced; she lost custody of their son and in 1938 married Billy Fiske, an American bobsled Olympic champion instrumental in developing Aspen as a winter sports resort.  The pair were introduced to each other by David Niven who had starred alongside Rose’s ex-husband Fulke in Paramount picture, ‘The Dawn Patrol’.  The couple’s marriage was happy but tragically short-lived.  A speed freak with lightning reactions, Billy Fiske’s abilities made him a perfect fighter pilot and he became one of just seven US aircrew personnel who fought in the Battle of Britain.  On 16 August 1940, Fiske’s RAF squadron was scrambled to intercept German dive bombers over southern England.  After fifteen minutes in the air, the fuel tank of Fiske’s Hurricane was hit by a German bullet.  Despite suffering severe burns he managed to land his plane but died in hospital two days later aged 29.  Rose married twice more; to Lt. Col. Sir John Lawson in 1945, and, after divorcing him five years later, to Theodore Sheldon Bassett in 1951.  That marriage also ended in divorce.  She died in 1971 aged 59.

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Lady Alington, the former Lady Mary Ashley-Cooper, eldest daughter of the Earl of Salisbury, was the essence of the classic upper crust gal. Tall and sturdily built she was hailed as, ‘the best swimmer in London’ according to The Times, winning numerous prizes at the prestigious Bath Club in London.  Indeed, we have several examples in our archive of her swimming prowess including one page featuring her playing a part in a Royal Life Saving Society film featuring a number of well-known society women. According to a profile in The Bystander in 1936, part of a series entitled, ‘Popular Women,’ she was ‘striking in appearance…keen on hunting and racing and an exponent of physical culture that she particularly excels.’  She was also a ‘splendid hostess’ who really knew how to throw a party. ‘Hula’ as she was known to her friends, married Napier Alington, the 3rd Baron, in 1928.  They had one daughter, Marianna (Mary Anna Sturt Marten 1929-2010), but just a few years later the couple had separated.  Napier Alington presented a respectable façade in public, running as a candidate for Parliament, but in private was bisexual, indulged in drugs and had a love affair with Tallulah Bankhead which may or may not have ended by the time of his marriage to Mary.  In any case, the outdoorsy, head girl-like Lady Alington and the louche Napier seemed rather mis-matched.  Lady Alington appeared in a 1931 Pond’s Cold Cream advert (found in a copy of Miss Modern magazine here).   In April 1936, she was featured in The Bystander in a stunning Vivex colour photograph by Madame Yevonde, but just four months later, Lady Alington – fit-as-a-fiddle, swimming supremo, Amazonian Lady Alington – underwent an operation for acute appendicitis and, to the shock of everyone, died.  She was just 34 years old.  Napier was killed four years later on active service with the RAF.

Beauty, wealth, privilege – and Pond’s Cold Cream. None of it, it seems, could protect from the tragic hand of fate.

Follow the link to see more on Pond’s and the women who endorsed it http://www.maryevans.com/lb.php?ref=36706

 

 

Handsome Chaps from History – A Valentines Top 10

Valentine’s Day is this Sunday and with love in the air, and romance on the breeze, how could we not dedicate our latest blog post to the enduring theme of ‘amour’? To be perfectly honest, perhaps the theme is more lust than love. Let me explain. Over the last year, TV viewers have been treated to a feast of lavish historical drama, with, for some of us, characters who remain indelibly stamped into our consciousness forever more. Damien Lewis gave us a simmering alpha male Henry VIII in ‘Wolf Hall’, fans of the epic ‘War & Peace’ may have fallen for the proud and troubled Andrei (though personally, I rather preferred the sexy swashbuckling arrogance of Dolokhov), and need we say any more about Poldark’s scythe or Philip Lombard’s towel in ‘And Then There Were None’?

Inspired by such a parade of historical and fictional romantic leads, we thought it would be fun to share with you a top ten of handsome chaps from history, illustrated, of course, with images from our archive. Here’s our rundown of who we’d like to share an intimate Valentine’s dinner with. And before we’re accused of sexism, we plan a similar list of ladies the minute we find an excuse!

10. Captain Leslie St. Clair Cheape Cheape (1882-1916). We always promise the obscure as well as the well-known at Mary Evans, and Leslie Cheape may not be a familiar name but in his day was hailed, ‘England’s greatest polo player’ – playing for England in the Westchester Cup three times in 1911, 1913 and 1914. He was pivotal in bringing the cup home in 1914 despite a ball breaking his nose during practice just a couple of days earlier (what a hero). Seated here on his polo pony, with, thrillingly, the hint of a tattoo on his muscular forearm, he’s the very essence of the upper class sportsman, many of whom lost their lives during the Great War. Unfortunately Leslie was one of them. He was killed on 23 April 1916 while commanding a squadron of the Worcestershire Yeomanry in Egypt.
9. Gary Cooper (1901-1961) There are so many movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age to choose from but Gary Cooper made the top ten because lurking behind those chiselled good looks, is the sense of masculine potency and seductive promise. Talullah Bankhead said there was only one reason she accepted a role alongside Cooper in the 1932 film, The Devil and the Deep, but you’ll have to look it up as it’s unprintable here.
8. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara (1928-1967) As Cuban revolutionaries go, Che had his fair share of good looks, and excellent facial hair to boot. Surely not everyone who wore a T-shirt with his face on it did so purely out of political empathy?
7. Anthony Wilding New Zealand tennis player Tony Wilding reputedly caused lady spectators at Wimbledon to faint when he made an appearance and it’s easy to see why. Tall, blond, a dedicated athlete and with matinee idol looks, he won Wimbledon four times between 1910 and 1913. He was also romantically linked with the actress Maxine Elliott, his elder by some fifteen years. Contemporary accounts testify to him being a proper gent and thoroughly nice chap – an ideal Valentine’s dinner companion. He was killed during the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915.  Read more about him on our WWI blog here.
6. Paul Newman Undeniably, dazzlingly, perfectly handsome, Newman once joked, “I picture my epitaph: ‘Here lies Paul Newman, who died a failure because his eyes turned brown.’”
5. British WWI flying ace  Captain Albert Ball (1896 – 1917) was our highest scoring fighter pilot during the conflict. Combining heroics with aerial wizardry and devastating boyish good looks, Albert was something of a pin-up but, like so many heroes of the skies, died tragically young, just before his 21st birthday. Special mention must also go to Manfred von Richthofen (1892-1918) whose cheekbones were as finely honed as his cockpit skills. May we recommend Michael Fassbender for any forthcoming biopic?
4. Robert Powell as Jesus of Nazareth (7–2 BC to AD 30–33). We should point out that Mr Powell remains hale and hearty but his portrayal of Jesus in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 film saw him give a mesmerising and swoonsome performance as the son of the Lord. Those rippling locks, those piercing eyes…it’s enough to convince the most ardent atheist to attend a Last Supper.
3. Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926). If anyone has any doubt over why the greatest movie idol of the early C20th attracted such global adulation, then this photograph of him in the character of the faun for a proposed film version of the erotic ballet, L’Apres Midi d’un Faun, might prove to be that moment of revelation. Valentino’s sensual on-screen seductions were enough to make millions of women fall under his spell. Here, with oiled limbs and smouldering gaze as the priapic faun, the world may have quite simply imploded with unsuppressed lust had this film ever made it into cinemas. If the Internet had existed nine decades ago, Valentino would definitely have broken it.
2. Leslie Hutchinson (1900-1969). Better known simply as Hutch, clubland crooner and serial womaniser Leslie Hutchinson numbered Edwina Mountbatten, Tallulah Bankhead (and Ivor Novello!) among his many conquests. Suave, sophisticated and a talented tickler of the ivories, Hutch was not only the biggest cabaret stars of the 1930s, he was also rumoured to possess a member of legendary proportions (Sir John Mills once witnessed him in the shower in a men’s changing room and confirmed the rumours by simply commenting “What a man,”). Locker room secrets aside, being serenaded by Hutch might just have been the perfect Valentines treat.
1. King Charles II Claiming the top spot is the Merry Monarch himself, whose lust for life and bawdy bedroom antics marks him out as the king to have a fling with. Swarthy and sensual, he famously stood six feet two inches tall, an impressive height in the C17th. Lavishing apartments, jewels and other gifts and money on his succession of demanding mistresses while the kingdom went to pot, John Evelyn commented that the libidinous Charles would have made a good ruler, “if he had been less addicted to women”. More interested in fleshy delights than government business, the King might not have been the most dedicated ruler, but who wants sensible when it’s Valentine’s Day? Ruled by love, rather than duty, Charles II is our naughty but nice choice for a Valentine’s dinner companion.